The best is yet to come

PolicyIs the recently published Transport White Paper, which sets out the EU transport policy for the next ten years, the start of a new era? asks the association of European Rail Infrastructure Managers

On 28 March 2011, the European Commission published the long awaited Transport White Paper setting out the EU transport policy for the next ten years including perspectives up to the year 2050. The association of European Rail Infrastructure Managers (EIM) fully supports the vision of a competitive and resource-efficient transport system outlined in the document, in particular the targets for the decarbonisation of the transport sector and the establishment of a single European transport area.

Sustainable transport
EIM believes that the Commission’s policy document is a unique opportunity to address a radical change towards sustainable transport in Europe. We particularly welcome the strong references to rail taking a greater share in traffic for both freight and passenger transport, as well as the specific targets set by the Commission: notably, 30 per cent of road freight over 300 km should shift to rail or waterways by 2030, and 50 per cent by 2050.

The European Commission’s proposals to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from transport by at least 60 per cent by 2050 compared to their 1990 levels are fully in line with the rail sector’s vision of the future of transport jointly advocated by EIM, the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies (CER) and the European Rail Industry (UNIFE). The European rail sector also welcomes the Commission’s aspiration for a structural change to reduce oil dependency in the sector, as well as moving towards the implementation of the “polluter pays principle”, a policy commitment that the European railways have long been advocating.

European Rail Infrastructure Managers are also pleased to see a strong commitment to creating a true internal market for rail services. A more consistent and coherent approach to multimodal freight corridors, the completion of a fully functional TEN-T network, and the creation of a European high-speed rail network are key measures to achieve an open, efficient and customer-orientated European rail network. This means that clients should become the “polar star” in the future of railways.

EIM’s vision of the future of transport is indeed a competitive, safe and interoperable European railway system open to all. Investment and technological developments should therefore aim towards a high performance European rail network that fully meets customer needs, thereby reducing carbon emissions from the transport sector.

From paper to reality
As the Transport White Paper sets out a policy framework that is definitely favourable to the development of the rail sector, the major challenge is now to translate plans into concrete actions in the next ten years. In particular, transport stakeholders should learn major lessons from the failure in the implementation of some of the objectives set in the 2001 White Paper, such as the modal shift of freight and passengers from road to rail.

“Implementation” should therefore be the key word for the rail sector in the coming years. The time of papers, whether green or white, is over. Concrete action is what we need to meet the Commission’s vision.

To start with, EIM strongly supports the Commission’s decarbonisation policy set out in the white paper, in particular the firm commitment to shift freight and passengers onto sustainable transport modes, such as rail. Setting clear pricing signals and a fair regulatory framework for all modes of transport are the key prerequisites to turn sustainability plans into reality. In practical terms, this means that the adoption of the revised Eurovignette Directive should not be seen as a final destination, but rather as a first step towards full internalisation of all external costs (not only noise and air pollutants, but also congestion, accidents or CO2 emissions) for all modes of transport.

This approach would allow transport modes to compete to the best of their ability on a level playing field.

Despite the fact that rail contributes less than 2 per cent of the EU transport sector’s CO2 emissions, infrastructure managers have already been implementing a number of innovative projects to further reduce their environmental impact. For example, renewable energy and energy efficiency can be found at the top of the agenda in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Belgium. Innovations have helped to preserve biodiversity along the High Speed Line in the UK and similar attention is being given to these issues in Portugal and Poland. Further examples can be found in the EIM publication 'Next Station: Sustainability'1.

Increasing competition
The Commission sadly recognises that at the beginning of the 21st century, the railways were the only transport mode in the EU that had not been opened up to competition. In order to achieve a true internal market for rail services, further competition is key. For this purpose, EIM is keen to promote non-discriminatory access to the network and services for new entrants in the market. To increase competition, well coordinated and independently managed national infrastructure managers can handle the expansion in international traffic that is expected to continue. This will ideally happen through a coordinated corridor approach.

Speaking of corridors, the revision of the Trans European Network for Transport (TEN-T) programme and the ongoing implementation of the regulation concerning a European rail network for competitive freight, are unique opportunities to concretely follow up the Transport White Paper.

EIM supports the Commission’s vision on a European mobility network, as the European continent needs to be united also in terms of infrastructure. In this context, rail should have a key role in implementing the Commission’s vision of a core network of corridors, carrying large and consolidated volumes of freight and passengers traffic with high efficiency and low emissions.

Harmonising the jungle of existing European rail corridors is a key prerequisite in order to move towards a consistent European approach to transport. The success of the corridors is indeed vital for trade and industry in Europe. This is the challenge we must meet to ensure these corridors become the backbone of European transport. In practical terms, EIM is committed to ensuring seamless rail transport for European passengers and goods, with particular focus on cross border sections. To put it simply, our greatest challenge is ensuring that a train from one Member State can run freely in another. This leads us straight to another concept that should be driving the European transport policies in the years to come: interoperability.

Towards interoperability
Technical harmonisation should be the first step to interoperability. This should be achieved in an optimal and cost efficient way without jeopardising the rail business. For this to come true, EIM is committed to support the European Institutions and cooperate with other sector organisations, focusing in particular on the revision of the Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs).

The importance of administrative and legal interoperability should not be underestimated either: simplifying procedures, removing red tape and harmonising national rules are essential measures in order to attract potential customers and make rail more competitive. For example, costs and time for homologation as well as time spent at the borders should be dramatically reduced.

In a forward looking perspective, inter-modal interoperability is equally important. Currently there is no coherent European framework for connecting transport modes through information and communication technologies.

The first step in putting such an integrated approach into practice should be the setting up of an ad-hoc EU inter-modal platform, to which the various transport modes should provide information. In order to facilitate the electronic exchange of information between modes, standardised information should be compatible with railway Technical Specification for Interoperability for Telematic Applications for Freight and Passengers (TSI TAF and TAP), which are mandatory at European level.

It goes without saying that technology will play a vital role in making tomorrow’s transport more sustainable and customer oriented. Such examples could be coordinated and viable deployment of multi-modal Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), and the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) can help to reduce CO2 emissions, congestion and energy consumption, as well as increasing safety. Innovation should therefore be aimed at making transport more customer oriented and environmentally friendly.

All about the money
How do you achieve these ambitious objectives for the transport sector and rail in particular? While the European Institutions can define the regulatory framework by setting fair rules for the market, it is clear that the efforts towards a more competitive and sustainable transport system need to include a reflection on the required characteristics of the network and must foresee adequate investments. At a time of budgetary constraints for the public administrations, this is a tricky issue bearing in mind that public funds are the main source of financing for land transport.

It is therefore essential to make the best possible use of the scarce financial resources currently available. Investing in rail would help accommodate growing transport demand and reducing transport greenhouse gas emissions. For example, as TEN-T corridors are a key driver to improving the EU transport system and stimulating the EU economy, EIM supports additional processes aiming at funding the TEN-T projects as well as a substantial increase in the funds allocated to the growth of environmentally friendly transport modes, with an emphasis on railway infrastructure projects and corridors.

An alternative source of financing would come from creating a framework for earmarking revenues from transport for the development of an integrated and efficient transport system, as proposed in the Commission’s white paper. This would be typically possible by implementing charging and internalisation schemes for the use of transport infrastructure.

Another important point is the reinforcement of the participation of the private sector in the financing of large investments, via public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Increasing cost efficiency is also essential. For this purpose EIM has already taken a leading role in the application of asset management in railway infrastructure organisations. The overall objective for the railways is to deliver the outputs valued by customers, funders and other key stakeholders, in a sustainable way and for the lowest whole life cost.

Time to act
The Transport White Paper sets ambitious goals to address a major transformation of the European transport system, strengthening the role of rail in passenger and freight traffic. Therefore, European transport stakeholders are now at a crossroads: missing the umpteenth good opportunity or addressing the start of a new era in transport. For the latter to happen it is time to stop talking and start acting.

Competition and interoperability in the rail sector, as part of an overall successful transport policy, are the key driving forces for improving the quality of services and choice for customers. Moreover, to meet customers’ needs and to promote the decarbonisation of the transport system, more investment in rail infrastructure is required. For this purpose innovative and environmentally friendly transport technology solutions must be developed and implemented. A key element to improve the overall efficiency of the system is also to provide the right transport mode for every transport question, and therefore, the integration of modes. In such a context EIM is firmly committed to cooperate with the European Commission to make rail corridors the backbone of the EU transport system.

Last but not least, the internalisation of the external costs and the application of the “polluter pays principle” are essential to creating a level playing field between modes.

European Rail Infrastructure Managers are keen to participate in this breakthrough starting now. The future of transport is the result of today’s actions.

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